Certainly, all members of the Dominican family (sisters, laity, nuns, and friars) consider their founder to be Saint Dominic, who started the Dominican Order over 800 years ago. A formal conference of Dominican Sisters came into being in 1935 when Martine Gillet, OP, the Master General of the Dominican Order, requested the formation of the Conference of the Dominican Mothers General of America. The sisters took this call seriously, and held their first meeting in San Rafael in 1935. By 1939 all 28 congregations in the U.S. participated in the gatherings, with the goal of bringing together congregational leadership for discussion of common aims and problems. Over the years, the conference took on structures so that the sisters had the opportunity to deepen their Dominican spirituality, strengthen the mission, and develop relationships. In 1972 the sisters reached out to include the Dominican Friars in the conference, and thus it became the Dominican Leadership Conference (DLC).
Dominican Leadership Conference (1972-2010)
From 1991 to 1998 the DLC worked to establish a presence at the UN, which helped shape our present understanding of ourselves as part of an international family. Eileen Gannon, OP, was appointed as the first DLC/NGO representative in 1998. We received our ECOSOC status in 2002.
In 1995 Libby Schaeffer, OP, the DLC Executive Director, provided the impetus and leadership to form the Dominican Communicators Network (OPCOMNET), which strengthened the interconnection of Dominicans all across the country and led to the birth, in 2002, of DomLife.org. The website was originally created by Don Kania, OP. Anne Lythgoe, OP, became the first editor.
Collaboration with the North American Justice Promoters facilitated countless projects and action steps across congregations on behalf of peace and justice issues. Notably, the collaborative efforts of the DLC, our UN Representative, and justice promoters were foundational for early efforts to end sanctions in Iraq in 1999, to establish a relationship with our sisters in Iraq and to protest the war. These efforts not only made our delegations to Iraq possible, but also forged experiential connections among ourselves as well as with our sister and brother Dominicans all over the world, thus creating a felt urgency to do the work of justice together as a Dominican family. These relationships continue to shape our global perspective and understanding.
The DLC initiated and facilitated many conversations among Dominican congregations who sought a future together in “closer union.” It was also a kind of container for explorations of other Dominican organizations that sprang up in the 1990s. Over 25 such organizations held affiliate membership and attended annual DLC meetings, participating in its discussions and projects. DLC members served on Boards and Advisory Councils of many of those organizations. These organizations included:
- Parable Conference for Dominican Life and Mission
- Dominican Association of Secondary School (DASS)
- Dominican High School Preaching Conference
- Dominican College Preaching Conference
- The McGreal Center
- Dominican Institute for the Arts (DIA)
- Las Casas: Dominicans in Ministry with Native Americans
- Siena Center
- Dominican Volunteers USA
- Dominican Volunteers International
- Dominican Associate Directors/Liaisons
- Federation of Dominican Sisters USA
- International Dominican Province and Organizations, including
- Dominican Sisters International (DSI)
- Province of St. Dominic – Canada
While the DLC provided support and opportunities to build relationships among those in elected leadership, there was no organization for the members at large. In 1999, following years of conversations about a “Closer Union” among Dominican Sisters, the Federation of Dominican Sisters USA (Federation) was formed. The Federation included all of the sisters and associates of all member congregations, whereas the DLC was an organization solely for those in leadership of congregations of sisters and provinces of friars.
Dominican Sisters Conference (2010-present)
The DLC continued to develop and grow. After many years of creating good relationships and programs with the friars, the changing needs of the two groups (friars and sisters) as well as the different kinds of issues facing them were apparent. Moreover, the friars, the nuns, and the laity had their own particular conferences, which the sisters did not have. So, following a two year process of study and consultation, a vote of the members of the DLC in 2009, and a vote of the Federation in 2010, the DLC held its last meeting in Maryknoll, NY, in October 2010, and a new organization was born: The Dominican Sisters Conference (DSC). Mary Sue Kennedy, OP, was the DSC’s first Executive Director. In 2014 Patricia Farrell, OP became Executive Director.
Over the past six years, the DSC has worked at finding its way as a new organization in service to both the membership and leadership of member Dominican congregations. In 2012 the first Convocation was held in Wheeling, IL, and was attended by 650 members. It was a spirit-filled gathering that continued to build upon relationships among sisters and associates across the country. During the Convocation, those assembled gave provisional approval to the Mission Statement as something to live into. So it seemed that the DSC was still unsure of its mission and role. The Mission Statement was finally approved in 2015.
The presentation, “What Is Earth Asking of the Dominican Order?” by Margaret Mayce, OP, Lucianne Siers, OP, and Pat Daly, OP, caught everyone’s imagination. The DSC took this energy forward, and with the help of the Earth Committee of the OPSCC, a video (available on DSC’s YouTube channel) and process were created for area/regional meetings that took place in 2014.
The DSC has continued to promote the question of Climate Change and Earth Justice, and in November of 2014 launched the study program, Paris 2015 and Counting . . . This included a study/fact sheet and community prayer on a monthly topic, such as women’s issues, migration, human trafficking, and war. The study related these issues to climate change. All of the studies and prayers, along with some other resources, are available through the DSC website, and at http://paris2015andcounting.org.
This study culminated in a fishbowl process at breakout sessions during our second Convocation in October 2015, in Wheeling, IL. The process and the convocation were truly successful. In addition, we signed letters to the president and congressional leaders, asking for a binding agreement at the climate change summit being held in Paris in December 2015. Then we blessed these documents and the four Dominican sister delegates, Margaret Mayce, OP, Pat Siemen, OP, Elise Garcia, OP, and Pat Daly, OP, who travelled to Paris on behalf of the DSC, as they represented civil society during the summit. We now continue with Paris 2015 and Beyond . . ., and are sharing a monthly study series on Laudato Si’ – Our Common Home that was originally created by the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael.
Presently, the DSC is engaged in a Futuring process that will create a direction for the Conference. The first part of the plan is to analyze our current means of communicating with one another, so that we can promote better use of technology for meetings and gatherings which will not only reduce travel cost, but also our carbon footprint. Toward the end of calendar year 2016 and the beginning of 2017, two other aspects of futuring will be considered: Sharing our Heritage and Financial Sustainability.